Triton Dsouza (Host): Welcome everyone to this episode of the podcast called MarTechno beat. So, in this, we talked to thought leaders and Market practitioners across geographies and industries to understand their thoughts and their experiences. Today, as a guest speaker, we have ‘Mr. Varun Atul Vashishtha’, senior product manager at StoreHub. StoreHub today powers more than 15,000 businesses across Southeast Asia with their cloud-based POS systems, e-commerce platforms, QR-powered loyalty programs, and table ordering. Varun also comes with a rich experience working with cutting-edge companies like “Fave” in Malaysia and “Grofers” in India. Welcome Varun, I think your thoughts and insights will benefit our listeners to a great extent.
Varun: Hey, it’s right, and thanks for having me. It’s nice to be here.
Triton: Great! So Varun, very unprecedented situations around, things are uncertain, some people know what’s happening some People don’t know what’s happening. So the first question that I would like to ask you on this podcast is “What are your thoughts and observations during the covid-19 situation, how have the markets changed for you, and what are the changes in the user behavior of consumption that you have seen”?
Varun: I mean for sure let’s start with the most important thing first covid-19 is something which I think all of us would just see once in Our Generations. I hope that we don’t see any other pandemic in our generation. Pandemics are written in history. It’s a scary time. It’s worse than the recession that we faced earlier in 2008 because at that time people were not dying, you know markets lost their values, people lost their jobs. Yes, but this time even job losses are happening, people, you know business are shutting down, and at the same time, it’s a global health crisis. So it’s kind of a very serious situation, to be honest. And I’m glad that all the countries around the world are doing their best to contain this and flatten the so-called curve. So I mean some countries are really doing great. I mean, I work closely with my developers in China. So China has done a great job in controlling the whole pandemics, South Korea did good, Malaysia is doing a great job. I recently saw some charts where you know the curves are starting to flatten for the last 4-5 days. So yes, hope is on the horizon, and having said that this whole pandemic, the whole lockdown system has actually impacted user behavior a lot. I mean, like if you think about it, like people are not going out at all. People are staying back at home. There are a lot of companies and a lot of platforms which facilitate people’s activities outside of their homes are now facing a big-time challenge of how to engage with users. So I mean food deliveries are booming for sure. Anything that has to help you stay at home, grocery supplies, all of these things are booming. But if you look at the right hailing systems, it’s a tough time for them. If you look at platforms that facilitate offline transactions, I mean for us also like we are a post company at StoreHub. It was kind of a tough time for us so we had to evolve for sure. So I think I mean if you look at how people work, nobody’s traveling to officers anymore. Everybody is working from the comfort of their homes and honestly speaking I feel have been more productive working from home. So it’s pretty interesting. So, I believe once this lockdown ends, whenever this ends and at that time user behaviors would have changed drastically. The world will not go back to being what it was, for sure. People will still be skeptical about touching the menus and a restaurant or you know, when they go to a cinema Hall, they’ll be skeptical about sitting next to a stranger for quite some time. I mean in a few years or sometimes things might go back completely to normal in terms of how people interact with each other but certain behaviors on a day-to-day basis will change. So yeah, I mean, it’s people working from home, it’d become a norm, to be honest after this thing ends. You know, nobody wants to waste like two hours of traveling time to the office when you can sit at home and actually be more productive. So yeah, let’s see how long this lockdown lasts. The longer it lasts, the severe the impact would be on user Behaviour, Market behavior, and everything.
Triton: Yeah, I completely agree with you, tough times much tougher than the recession in 2008, but there is a hope that with all this, you know, changing Behaviour across I think they will be on New way of working in new world of working and we all hope that we come out stronger and more productive from the situation.
Varun: Oh yeah man! For sure. I mean, I also hope that that’s the best thing about humankind, right? You know, we evolve, we have been revolving ever since right from apes to humans and now humans we are also evolving absolutely.
Varun: So here we will evolve for sure, things will change and I hope the world comes out stronger and I’m pretty damn confident that it will.
Triton: Great! So Varun, from the StoreHub’s perspective, I’ve heard that you guys have done and taken some Innovative measures and some you know strategies, but this period, would you mind talking about it?
Varun: Sure. So I mean for the listeners, so just to give you context, what we used to do at the StoreHub was that we were a cloud-based platform for merchants to operate and run their businesses. And so one of our primary products was a point of sale system where Merchants can record their transactions in their stores and we had a couple of products like table QR ordering, QR base loyalty programs, and e-commerce. However, when the MCO happened, we came to this impasse where most of our businesses, most of our Merchants might run out of cash flow might run out of business altogether by the time this ends. There were predictions that F&B in businesses, 80% of the business won’t even survive the lockdown because they only have a cash flow of roughly around 27 or 28 days. And I mean, we all predicted that the clock down Might last longer than that and it has actually. So far we are sitting on I think the 30th day of lockdown today and we still have like 12 days to go and you know, there are very good chances that it might even increase. So what we did was we partnered with a couple of on-demand Logistics that which is services providers like “Lalamove” and “GoGet” and we came up with this product called beat delivery. And the biggest challenge which we realized that our Merchants were facing at that point was that all the other food delivery Platforms in Southeast Asia charge you roughly around 30 to 35% anywhere between 25 to 35% commission for food delivery.
And this was burning a major hole in the pockets and profits of merchants and this 25% could be the deciding factor between whether the merchant, whether of those that business is going to survive this time or not. So our idea was simple, we are a service provider. We already have both, so we launched something called beep delivery where Merchants can basically collect orders. And actually, we will get it delivered from them via API integration with Lala move and GoGet and deliver to the consumers for a very big minimum price of 2 % only. So that was an overdrafting thing because for us, our core philosophy was always about helping the merchants and it was really important for us during these times. So that’s something which we launched and we launched this I think if I remember correctly now within three days of the first announcement of MCO, so I think on 21st or 22nd of March if I remember correctly we had our beep delivery platform of and ready and within a week the week after that. We launched a consumer-facing platform, which is ‘beepit.com’. So today you can go to beepit.com and search across our 400-500 Merchants who are on our platform today and actually placed an order with them place a delivery order or place a self-pick-up order with them. So yeah, so we have been working a lot in those directions. The response so far from the market has been good. There are some star players. I mean I’ve heard stories like, you know restaurant opens at 10 a.m. and by 10:15, they are all sold out like within 15 minutes the replaces are sold out like. I have success stories like where there are certain shops and certain stores who say oh we have never done this kind of business before even before MCO. And somehow beep delivery as a platform is supporting so much and it has given them an Avenue to reach out to their customers to interact with their customers and you know, get direct orders while seeing what major chunk of money on every order and Merchants are actually happy with it. So yeah, that’s something we share doing. That’s something we have been progressively working towards improving the experience and that’s all we have been doing.
Triton: Wonderful. I think of a fantastic story and strategy that is applied. Not only you guys managed to launch such a platform in three days, but I think the returns are also fantastic and I think you have guys have helped the merchants to a Great extent when you say 400-500 merchants and the kind of you know benefits like just 2% against what the otherwise paying 35% and then the success stories that you have seen. I think kudos to you and your team, the fantastic job that you guys have done.
Varun: I think I mean, I think I mean I really want to thank the team at this point because I mean we have had people who have worked overnight to get this done and you know, I mean, I really enjoyed it the overall culture of StoreHub right now because I mean we are all on a mission right now to get this thing out and get this thing done as fast as we can and I don’t think it would have been possible without the team and especially without White House leadership for sure.
Triton: Absolutely. So all the best to you and your team and I’m sure you guys will keep on building on this Innovative strategy that you have applied.
Varun: Thanks, man.
Triton: So Varun, that brings me to my next question. So, you know, applying this strategy and doing things. So what from the user engagement or retention perspective especially from your Merchant’s perspective. What are the most important KPIs or goals that you have set?
Varun: Okay. So right now when we launched beep delivery our first thing was to get it, get it out to as many Merchants as we can, and help them out as much as we can. So we saw great success in a few areas where I mean, if it goes without saying if the merchants have their own visibility on social media and if they have good fan following on social media, they were instant successes. So basically what they did was they posted their URLs on the social media websites and instantly, they would start getting orders because of their fans and following. However, there were certain Merchants who did not have social media visibility and for them giving a number of orders was kind of a challenge for us. So what we are doing right now is constantly training our Merchants on how to build their social media presence and how to advertise better on social media and at the same time, we have built our own consumer-facing platform where customers can come and discover these restaurants. So it’s a combination of multiple efforts. So what we aim for and one of the most important KPIs for us is to have as many successful businesses as we can. So successful businesses are those who get a consistent number of orders every day. So you know, we constantly keep on twerking that number of orders that you are Merchants should get every day to be determined as successful because I mean we see these crazy stories every day. So, you know our expectations also keep on increasing and so our Merchants expectation also keep on increasing. So that’s something which we have been constantly working towards, how to help not just you know, the 20% or 30% Merchants but actually to help each and every Merchant so that’s one of our biggest KPIs to have as many successes as we can and we constantly work towards it.
Triton: That’s great. I think that that is fantastic. KPIs to have of how many successful businesses you’re able to get and I see the kind of effort that you’re putting so training them being with them educating them on various aspects. So Varun, are there any challenges that you’re facing in these KPIs in maintaining these KPIs or tracking these KPIs or any other challenges that you want to talk about?
Varun: I mean, there are of course certain challenges. Because when we launched this platform like okay, so I think the key of, I mean to be specifically talking about beep delivery platform, the key is getting the logistics right. So I mean all of us know that in food delivery, they’re the primary. The biggest pain point is always Logistics. A lot of companies have started it and shut down because of last-mile problems, how to get deliveries to the customers. So I think that was one of the biggest challenges that we faced initially. So now thankfully we have good API Integrations with Lalamove and GoGet and we might actually be getting more last-mile delivery providers on our platform right now. So that’s one challenge that is solved. The second Challenge is honestly like, you know, it’s a challenge of scale. So as we grow, how do we make sure that you know right now when we initially started with easier for us to train every merchant on how to get on social media and everything but the next challenge is how do we do it on a scale? So we are working on you know we have certain decks which have certain steps Merchants can follow and all of that stuff. But yeah, these are certain constant challenges. So we keep on experimenting. We have seen immense improvements in those areas. But I mean with all honesty, this whole product is just four weeks old. So I mean every day is a new challenge and the good thing is we tackle it. And you know and a new challenge comes in the way. So we have been tackling a lot of challenges right now. The good thing is that we don’t have to struggle with the same challenge so far. I think we will see a few challenges as we go into the future. It’s inevitable for any product to run across challenges. But as of now, I think having more and more successful Merchants, that’s our KPIs, and how to meet that, that’s our challenge. So it’s how can you keep evolving in the process and how do you get on board more Merchants fast? You know, we have been stuck in places where we had more leaps of merchants who wanted to join and then our capacity to be on board. So we have had those times, you know, constantly improving the onboarding process, constantly improving the sale cycle, constantly evolving the be product in itself because you know increasing and improving the customer experience, how they order, how they track things and everything. So yeah, many things have been changing every day. So I can’t really point out one single challenge.
Triton: Absolutely. I think you pointed out that one of the key challenges is not only faced by you but then multiple people, the challenge of scale and speaking to quite a few, you know practitioners of thought leaders across, usually we come across these challenges that can be addressed by Automation and by personalization. I would like to know your thoughts on what do you even have to say about personalization and automation and how this can help take away the challenge of scale?
Varun: Automation for sure at our stage, I think automation is the key to key to scale. Right. So, I mean as many logistic Partners we can integrate with us so that you know, the whole finding a rider part is automated. How fast can we automate the whole process of merchants giving the pay-outs, how fast can we automate the process of merchants accepting the orders? So glad we were at the Post company. So as soon as the order was created in the system, it automatically went to the kitchen and everything. So we had those processes automation set up which is why it was easy and was not so hard for us to scale. It was still hard and I won’t say it’s easier but it gave us a slight head start in that area. So I think automation for sure at this particular point for us is one of the key importance to automate as many processes as we can. How can we automate certain aspects of boarding new Merchants, how can we automate certain aspects of the consumer journey on the platform itself? So yes, those are the clear challenges of personalization Crichton. I mean, I don’t think that is a big challenge for us today. Hopefully, I would love to face that challenge in the future because that’s what I think is a challenge for the next level of the next problem of scale. So I haven’t faced that challenge of personalization. Yet on the beep platform, I am facing certain challenges about how to improve Discovery for sure, but I think those are still early stages. But as I said, I would love to face the challenge of personalization because that means my product would be at a certain level of personalization, so this challenge of personalization in my head automatically defines a certain level of success of the product, to be honest.
Triton: Completely agree with you Varun. One final question that I have with you is what are your thoughts on the AI or ML part, know machine learning, how it is improving things. Predictive Analytics mobile marketing. So what are your thoughts on these aspects?
Varun: Oh! Well, actually these aspects are actually pretty important. So if you talk about Predictive Analytics if you talk about machine learning or AI okay, here AI is the super fancy word all right, let’s just stick to machine learning. Okay. So if you talk about Predictive Analytics, predictions or machine learning, I mean, for example, I give you a very common example in terms of our Merchants like right now we have success stories of merchants who run out of stock in 15 minutes of opening the store, right. And you know, sometimes they get an overwhelming amount of orders which they cannot really cater to on that day. So now one of the biggest questions which we have is how can we leverage technology or Predictive Analytics to predict how many orders they will get the next day. So I think that’s the next problem of scale. How can we help them Supply, you know Source all the goods and materials. How can we give them insights? It’s so that they know that okay on Monday, I get ‘x’ amount of orders, I am if I’m growing at by experts and this is how many orders I’m predicted to have. And hence I should get this much raw materials prepared. And in order to get that I should start placing my orders x days before. So I think that would be a key in the later stages for our Merchant’s growth and being able to handle the orders on a scale. So that’s one example and if you talk about logistics also Logistics would be imensive area where machine learning or predictions can actually play a good role. If we can predict the demand in a particular area. For example, if we can if you take a block like for example, I live in Bangsar South, and if we can predict the demand in Bangsar South, then we can actually inform our delivery Partners in advance that, ‘Hey guys, in Bangsar South, we might see a surge in demand, and so can you guys place a certain amount of lighters in that area or nearby that area. So these will be a few things that actually are the challenges that companies face. So 0 to 1 is easy. 0 to 1 is building a platform, getting there and then 1 to 50 is also kind of either 1 to 85 this kind of easy, you know, you have certain playbooks you play with and then it defines the difference between a good product and a great product or a good model and a great model. I think these all things will play a major significant role between those transitions. How do we know the best way we can do all of these things, optimize Logistics, optimize demand, and predict demand and all of these things. I think these would be a few challenges Jews faced at a scale on a later stage. So yeah, it has a significant role in my opinion.
Triton: Very well put Varun, I think after the company reaches a certain stage to get that next leap, machine learning or Predictive. Analytics can play a very important role. Very good use cases, which you have suggested, you know, which can directly see the benefits and with that actually that that brings me to the end of this podcast episode. Thank you so much for your time and valuable thoughts and insights. I’m sure our listeners will get a lot of benefits and a lot of content to ponder about. Thank you so much, Varun.
Varun: Thank you so much Triton. Thank you so much for having me. I mean, it’s a pleasure to be able to share my thoughts.
Triton: Glad to have you and once the MCU is over, we should definitely meet and share more thoughts on this. Thank you once again. Take care Varun, have a nice day. Bye-bye.
Varun: Bye, bye.